Exelon: No public threat from tritium leak

Experts working to determine source of leak, says plant VP

June 8, 2009 ATED STORY

A tritium leak was found during routine monitoring of Exelon Corp.'s Dresden nuclear plant last week, but contaminated water was contained to the property and did not pose a public health threat, company officials said today.

Testing at Dresden, near the Grundy County town of Morris about 60 miles southwest of Chicago, found tritium levels of 3.2 million picocuries per liter of water in a monitoring well, storm drains and concrete vault. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's limit for drinking water is 20,000 picocuries per liter.

But there was no public safety threat because the contaminated water did not appear to have left the plant, officials said in a written statement.

"While this is not a public or employee safety issue, we're committed to being forthright, clear and concise with our neighbors about the status of our plant operations," said Tim Hanley, Dresden's site vice president.

Tritium is a radioactive form of hydrogen found in groundwater, but it is more concentrated in water used in nuclear reactors. The EPA says exposure to tritium can increase people's risk of developing cancer.

Hanley said experts at the Dresden Generating Station are working to determine the source of the leak. He said the contaminated water had been pumped from the storage containers and was being processed through the plant's waste-processing system. A similar leak reported at the plant in 2006 also was contained to the property. The source of that contamination was a leaky pipe, which work crews replaced, officials said.

Nuclear Regulatory Commission spokeswoman Viktoria Mitlyng said today federal officials had been notified of the recent Dresden leak.

She said the situation is a much different than a series of tritium leaks from 1996 to 2003 at Chicago-based Exelon's Braidwood nuclear plant in Will County.

In those years, Exelon did not report the leaks, prompting federal regulators to inspect plants and resulting in several lawsuits. The source of the leaks later was identified as an underground pipe that carried water to the Kankakee River, where it was dumped legally.

That situation, along with leaks at other Exelon facilities in Illinois, also prompted a $5 million companywide environmental study and led to stricter reporting of leaks within the industry.

"After Braidwood, there was a huge initiative from people to identify them (tritium leaks)," Mitlyng said. "That situation was unacceptable."

In late 2006, Exelon also gave Godley, a village near the Braidwood station, more than $11 million to help pay for a new municipal water system. Exelon officials said there was no evidence of tritium contamination in Godley's wells, but paying for the new system was a gesture of goodwill

-- Associated Press